Monday, November 29, 2010

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Novel)

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Novel) Release date: 1999. Author: Stephen Chbosky. Publisher: Pocket Books. ISBN: 9780671027346.

Plot summary: Charlie starts his freshman year of high school in the fall of 1991 and chronicles his experiences through letters to an unknown person (simply called “Friend”). The story begins with Charlie expressing how upset he is that his best friend, Michael, has recently committed suicide. It is clear that Charlie is an unusual fifteen-year-old. In his letters to his friend, he seems to think about things other people do not. After he is befriended by brother and sister, Sam and Patrick, both seniors, Charlie begins to experience things outside of his own mind. He is introduced to friends of Sam and Patrick, he attends parties and experiments with alcohol and drugs, and he explores his sexuality in his love for Sam. Throughout his letters, Charlie alludes to previous hospitalizations for psychiatric reasons, but divulges little about the nature of his psychological problems. As he encounters typical teen situations, Charlie must deal with them in his own way. Often he cries or says and does the wrong thing, but he is always, simply put, Charlie.

Critical evaluation: The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a very engaging story about a very endearing character. Almost from the beginning, the reader will fall in love with Charlie and his quirkiness. Although it is clear that he has some deeply rooted psychological issues, Charlie’s zest for his experiences is addicting. Charlie truly values the relationships he has with the people in his life. He discusses in great detail his feelings for his family, his friends Sam and Patrick, and his encouraging teacher, Bill. He also describes other experiences ranging from masturbation to acid trips to fighting. In every detail, however, Charlie provides an unusual but realistic look at what many teens experience. Charlie’s prose is a look at what teens might think or feel if they weren’t inhibited by the need to appear “normal.” Charlie realizes that he’s odd, but it doesn’t change who he is or how he feels. Charlie’s life and experiences draw the reader in, making the book difficult to put down. Teens and adults alike will find something in Charlie or in the people in his life to relate to. Charlie’s friend Sam must struggle with the sexual victimization she received as a child. Her brother, Patrick, is dealing with being a closet homosexual who is in love with the high school’s star athlete. Charlie’s sister has an abusive boyfriend who threatens to abandon her he finds out she’s pregnant. All of the characters in the novel are very relatable and create a rich and compelling cast for the plot. In The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Chbosky has created a fun, interesting, entertaining but also very sweet, sentimental and emotional read.

Reader's annotation: Charlie is different from other teens: he’s very sensitive, he doesn’t think of things the way other people do, but he’s determined to participate in the experiences of his freshman year of high school as much as possible. After befriending two seniors, Charlie finally begins to feel a part of something.  

About the author: Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1970, Stephen Chbosky’s literary career has been varied. In 1992, Chbosky graduated from the University of Southern California’s screenwriting program. His first screenplay, The Four Corners of Nowhere, debuted in 1995 at the Sundance Film Festival. Chbosky began working on his first and only novel to date, The Perks of Being a Wallflower. The novel was published in 1999 and has been successful ever since, despite being on the ALA’s list on ten most frequently challenged titles in 2006, 2008 and 2009. In 2005, Chbosky wrote another screenplay for the film adaptation of the Broadway musical, Rent. Chbosky also helped edit John Leguizamo’s one-man show, sexaholic, as well as a short story anthology called Pieces (2000). In 2006, Chbosky became the writer, executive producer and co-creator of Jericho, a television show on CBS which was cancelled in 2008. In recent years, Chbosky has said he is working on a screenplay adaptation of his most well-known work, The Perks of Being a Wallflower. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Chbosky)

Genre: Fiction

Curriculum ties:
Literature in high school (the works that Charlie reads)
Banned or challenged literature

Booktalking ideas:
Charlie’s behavior and personality
Charlie’s relationships with his friends and family
Sexual abuse
Homosexuality in high school
Drug and alcohol use in high school

Reading level/Interest Age:
Grade 9 and up.

Challenge issues:
Language
Sexuality (including masturbation)
Homosexuality
Drug and alcohol use
Violence

Challenge counterpoints:Recommended for grade 9 and up.
Recommend parent read novel before child.
Recommend parent discuss family policy concerning drug and alcohol use with child.
Recommend parent discuss teenage sexuality with child.



Reasons for inclusion:
Positive review from Los Angeles Times, School Library Journal, Booklist, Kirkus Reviews and Publishers Weekly.


Emily the Strange: Lost, Dark and Bored, Vol. 1 (Graphic Novel)

Emily the Strange: Lost, Dark and Bored, Volume 1. (Graphic Novel) Release date: 2006. Author: Rob Reger and Buzz Parker. Publisher: Dark Horse Books. ISBN: 9781593075736.

Plot summary: Organized in a series of strips and vignettes, this graphic novel features Emily and her cats, Sabbath, Mystery, Miles and Neechee. The novel is divided into three subparts: bored, lost and dark. In each subpart, Emily experiences different things and puts forth different ideas and thoughts about the topic. In the “bored” chapter, Emily concocts a “strange sauce” that she feeds her classmates on their food loaf, causing a very strange reaction. She also details thirteen uses for a wire hanger, including a swamp stirrer, head cage, liver skewer and monster pacifier. In the “lost” chapter, Emily visits Lostco, a large warehouse store, where she is on the hunt for cat food. True to its name, Emily ends up hopelessly lost and goes to extreme means to find what she’s looking for among all the free samples and junk. Emily also gets lost in the woods where she stumbles upon a witch’s house made of black licorice. In the “dark” chapter, Emily hosts a public access show called “Deep Dark Thoughts” where she presents just that to the audience. Apart from these topical vignettes, Emily also interviews Elvira and Marilyn Manson, asking them strange and unusual questions.

Critical evaluation: Emily the Strange is dark and creepy, but that’s the point. The illustrations are grotesque. Mouths gape, there’s blood and guts, and few colors other than black, white and red. The vignettes and strips don’t really follow a plot but serve more as a vehicle for Emily to unleash biting sarcasm and societal critiques on the reader. Although this type of graphic novel is not for everyone, it will undoubtedly appeal to teens of the “Hot Topic” variety. Emily’s statements and adventures are often clever. The vignette about getting lost in Lostco is quite funny and something that teens and adults can relate to. She also has clever lists, such as “Emily’s Thirteen Other Uses for Wire Hangers” and “What’s Darker Than Dark.” What is most appealing about Emily is how she maintains her expression, or lack of one, throughout every situation she finds herself in. She doesn’t smile, and always seems to be bored or disinterested. This is reminiscent of popular 90s cartoon character, Daria, who was cynical to the point of it being endearing. Teens can identify with this type of attitude and will find it amusing.  

Reader's annotation: Emily tackles three topics she knows all too well: boredom, getting lost and darkness.
About the author: Emily the Strange was created by Rob Reger and his company called Cosmic Debris Etc. Inc. The character of Emily was created by Reger in 1993 and has since expanded from the graphic novel market to be used on t-shirts, underwear, toys, guitars, notebooks and much more. Emily has also been used in a series of novels for young adults published by Harper Collins. Buzz Parker is just one illustrator of Emily of the Strange novels. Cosmic Debris Etc. Inc. employs a team of individuals to create the stories and illustrations of Emily the Strange. (http://www.cosmicdebris.com/)
Genre: Graphic novel

Curriculum ties:
None

Booktalking ideas:
Cynicism
Boredom, feeling lost, and darkness
Emily’s view on the world
How graphic novels reflect on real issues

Reading level/Interest Age:
Grade 10 and up.

Challenge issues:
Violence
Language
Grotesque images

Challenge counterpoints:Recommended for grade 10 and up.
Recommend parent read novel before child or with child.
Recommend parent discuss character of Emily the Strange with child (her point of view and how it relates to family policies.)



Reasons for inclusion:
Positive review from Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal.
Popular character that has been around for decades.  

The Sims 3 (Game)

The Sims 3 (Game) Release date: 2009. Creator: Electronic Arts. Platform: PC. ASIN: B000166N6SA.
Sims3Cover-Art.jpg

Plot summary: Continuing on the successes of the previous two editions of the Sims, The Sims 3 adds many new elements to traditional Sims game play. Sims games do not have a plot in the traditional sense. Like other simulator games, players make their own stories. In The Sims 3, players create families of Sims. Sims can look any way the player wants and can have any personality the player wants. Sims can start off as adults, or can begin as toddlers, kids or teens. Players create familial relationships. Sims can begin their lives in love with someone and with children, or players can have them fall in love and start a family as part of the game play. The environment of the Sims is also up to the player. Sims can live in a mansion surrounded by fancy things, or a one-room shack. Sims can have whatever job the player desires and can attain skills to advance in their careers. The possibilities are endless. Additional features present in The Sims 3 include simultaneous aging between households. This means that players can create two families, both of which will age at the same rate even if the player is not actively playing those houses. The Sims also have many more options in their lives in The Sims 3.

Critical evaluation: There are few games in the world more addictive than Electronic Arts’ Sims series. The same is true for the latest edition, The Sims 3, which takes the best parts of the earlier Sims games and introduces new features to make game play easier. The best part of The Sims 3 the sense of control it gives the player. This is why it is especially appealing for teens who often feel that they have little to no control over their lives. Players can make or break their Sims. Sims can be based on real people or fictional. Players can create a Sim of themselves and have the Sim fall in love with their dream partner. The Sims 3 allows players to use their imagination but see their creations on screen. It is a game that allows the player to escape their world and enter another, something that many teens will enjoy.

Reader's annotation: The possibilities are endless when creating your own virtual neighborhood! Watch your Sims grow from babies to toddlers, kids and teens to adults, all while you control their lives!   
About the creator: Founded in 1982 by Trip Hawkins, Electronic Arts (EA) has become one of the most successful software developers and publishers in the world. One of the most notable features of EA was their commendation and promotion of their game developers, something other software companies were not doing. Game developers would receive profits from the games they created, as well as notoriety for their work. This attracted some of the industry’s best developers as EA was getting its start. After Trip Hawkins left the company in the 1990s, new CEO, Larry Probst, brought EA to its current size and scope. Much of EA’s success if due to their creation of strong game franchises, such as the Sims, sports games like Madden, FIFA, NHL, Need for Speed and Battlefield. In 2007, Probst stepped down as CEO of EA and was replace by John Riccitiello. Riccitiello now manages the company, as well as its many studios, subsidiaries, and labels. The company is headquartered in Redwood City, California. In 2010, EA has 27 titles that have sold more than one million copies, and five titles that have sold more than four million copies (one of which is The Sims 3). (http://aboutus.ea.com/home.action)

Genre: Simulation

Curriculum ties:
None

Booktalking ideas:
Role of simulation games in society
Using simulation games to role-play
Using simulations games as a way to act out imaginary scenarios

Reading level/Interest Age:
ESRB rating of T (for teens ages 13+).

Challenge issues:
Sexuality
Violence

Challenge counterpoints:Recommended for ages 13+.
Recommend parent play game before child.
Recommend parent play game with child.
Recommend parent discuss nature of game (imaginary) versus reality.  

Reasons for inclusion:
Best-selling game (has sold over 4.6 million copies, 1.4 copies in the first week of release).
Positive reviews from PC Gamer and GameSpot.


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sense and Sensibility (Novel)

Sense and Sensibility (Novel) Release date: 1811. Author: Jane Austen. Publisher: CreateSpace (2010). ISBN: 9781451539400.

Plot summary: Nineteen-year-old Elinor Dashwood and her younger sister, sixteen-year-old Marianne, must move with their mother and sister, thirteen-year-old Margaret, after the death of their father. Although Mr. Dashwood made his son, John, half-brother to the Dashwood women, promise to take care of the ladies, John’s cruel and stingy wife, Fanny, refuses. Before they are turned out of the family estate, the Dashwoods are visited by Fanny’s brother, Edward Ferrars. Elinor and Edward immediately form an attachment which is, unfortunately, cut short when the Dashwood women move to a cottage at Barton Park, the estate of Mrs. Dashwood’s cousin, Sir John Middleton, in Devonshire. There, the women are introduced to Colonel Brandon who Sir John and his vivacious mother-in-law, Mrs. Jennings, believe would make a good match for Elinor. Still remembering her affections for Edward, however, Elinor is not interested, and Brandon is attracted to Marianne. Marianne is put off by the age difference between her and the Colonel, Brandon is 35, and eventually falls for the dashing John Willoughby whom she happens to meet one day in the countryside. Not everything is as it seems for the Dashwoods, however: Willoughby inexplicably disappears to London with little explanation and Elinor discovers that her beloved Edward is actually engaged to someone else. Are the Dashwoods doomed to a life of perpetual disappointment and neglect?

Critical evaluation: Jane Austen’s classic tales have appealed to readers of all ages for centuries, and Sense and Sensibility is no different. What is not often thought of, however, when discussing Austen’s novels is that they are, in fact, generally about teenage women. Elinor and Marianne Dashwood are both teenagers who deal with common teenage problems: love, disappointment, rejection and loss. Readers will be able to relate to the relationship between the two sisters: Elinor is calm, reserved and modest. Marianne is exuberant and very forthcoming with her feelings and emotions. This is a common distinction between siblings still, almost 200 years later. Austen also does a wonderful job of portraying the unique qualities of her time. Etiquette and decorum are major considerations for the Dashwood sisters, as are their social standing. Many modern teens will be able to identify with the fact that Elinor and Marianne do not have the income for fancy clothes, coaches, or even their own house. They instead rely on their intelligence and personalities in their relationships. Perhaps the relevance of Austen’s stories in the 21st century are the reason they have seen a resurgence in recent years (i.e. Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters [2009]). Teens over the past two centuries have enjoyed this wonderful story, as they undoubtedly will for years to come.

Reader's annotation: After their father’s death, nineteen-year-old Elinor Dashwood and her sixteen-year-old sister, Marianne, must move with their mother and younger sister from their lavish home to a small country cottage. Will they be able to find love in their new lives?    
About the author: Jane Austen was born on December 16, 1775 in Steventon, England to Reverend George Austen and his wife Cassandra. Austen was the seventh child, but only the second daughter in her family. Her and her older sister, Cassandra (named after their mother), were very close as a result of being the only two girls in the family. Austen was also very close with older brother, Henry, who later served as her literary agent. In 1783, Austen and her sister were sent to boarding school where they were educated in foreign language, music and art. Upon returning from school, Jane furthered her own education through reading works from her father’s large book collection. In 1787, Austen began writing stories and poems in small notebooks. Jane would often read aloud her compositions to the rest of her family for their amusement. Although it was expected that young women would marry, Austen never did. She did, however, fall in love with family friend, Tom Lefroy, whom she was unable to marry because the match was thought impractical. Over the following years, Austen continued to work on her stories, even after her family relocated to Bath, England. In 1811, Austen’s first novel, Sense and Sensibility, was published with much success. Her second work, Pride and Prejudice was published in 1813. After publishing several more successful titles, Jane died in 1817 of illness. Through her novels, Austen stands out as an intelligent, head-strong woman from an era when women were expected to be meek. (http://www.janeausten.org/jane-austen-biography.asp)
Genre: Fiction/Historical

Curriculum ties:
Romantic era
Famous authors

Booktalking ideas:
Sibling relationships
Social aspects of being a teenager in Austen’s era vs. modern-day
Roles of women throughout history
Love and deception

Reading level/Interest Age:
Age 13 and up.

Challenge issues:
None

Reasons for inclusion:
Considered a classic work of literature.  

Star Wars: The Force Unleased II (Game)

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II (Game) Release date: 2010. Creator: LucasArts. Platform: Playstation 3, Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo DS, PC. ASIN: B0030F1D00 (PS3), B0030EU3TG (XBOX 360), B0030F1DQC (Wii), B0030EU400 (DS), B00302182A (PC).
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed

Plot summary: This sequel to the LucasArts game Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (2008) picks up the story of Starkiller, an apprentice to Darth Vader, several months after the events of the first game. Starkiller was thought to have died, but is reanimated as a clone at the imperial cloning facility on the planet Kamino. Starkiller experiences flashbacks to the events of the first game and realizes that Darth Vader is on a quest to kill him. Fleeing Kamino, Starkiller goes in search of love interest, Juno Eclipse. In his search for Juno and flight from Vader, Starkiller reunites with old allies including Jedi Master Kota and the rebel forces. Starkiller discovers that Vader has hired bounty hunter Boba Fett to capture Juno in an effort to lure him back to Kamino. After Juno is captured, Starkiller does venture back to Kamino and learns that Vader and the Emperor are cloning an army of Jedi. The events of The Force Unleashed II take place about one year prior to the original Star Wars film, A New Hope.

Critical evaluation: Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II, though tragically short for Star Wars fans, is a fun and engaging game that improves upon an already wonderful predecessor. The graphics are cutting-edge with the right combination of flare and artistry. The game play is highly addictive, giving the player the opportunity to immerse in the abilities of the Jedi. Players can wield the Force by moving objects, generating electricity, mind-tricking, and acrobatics. Perhaps the most appealing aspect of the game is the light saber combat, where players can now wield two light sabers at once. The plot of the game is fast-paced and engrossing. Starkiller is a realistic character who expresses true human emotions during the game, such as despair, love and rage. Players are given the opportunity to make decisions for Starkiller that impact the outcome of the plot. This makes the game almost an electronic version of a “Choose your own adventure” story that will appeal to teens. In Star Wars: The Force Unleased II, LucasArts has created an intriguing addition to the Star Wars saga that will satisfy gamers and Star Wars enthusiasts alike.

Reader's annotation: Wield the Force as you control powerful Jedi, Starkiller on his quest to rescue his true love, Juno, from the clutches of the evil Darth Vader.    
About the creator: Founded by George Lucas in 1982, LucasArts, working closely with Lucas’ special effects company, Industrial Light and Magic, continues to advance the art of game design. One of the primary aspects of LucasArts games that set them apart from those created by other companies is storytelling. LucasArts strives to combine advanced game play with elements of filmmaking, like character development and plot twists, to create an immersive experience. In 1984, LucasArts released its first games, Ballblazer and Rescue on Fractulus! for the Atari. Since then, the company has released hundreds of very successful titles including The Secret of Monkey Island (1990), Afterlife (1996), Gladius (2003), and Thrillville (2006). Their most popular games, however, are based on George Lucas’ Star Wars and Indiana Jones sagas. The company is headquartered in San Francisco, California.

Genre: Action and adventure

Curriculum ties:
None

Booktalking ideas:
Choices, both good and bad
Consequences
Sacrifice
Star Wars and its impact on society

Reading level/Interest Age:
Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) rating of T (for teens ages 13+).

Challenge issues:
Violence

Challenge counterpoints:Recommended for teens ages 13 and older.
Recommend parent play game before child.
Recommend parent play game with child or discuss as child is playing game.

Reasons for inclusion:
Based on critically acclaimed Star Wars saga.
Positive reviews from IGN, Game Informer, GamePro and GamesRadar.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Super Mario Galaxy (Game)

Super Mario Galaxy (Game) Release date: 2007. Creator: Nintendo. Platform: Nintendo Wii. ASIN: B000FG9QVI.

SuperMarioGalaxy.jpgPlot summary: Mario receives an invitation from Princess Peach to attend the Star Festival. After arriving at the festival, however, the Mushroom Kingdom is attacked by the evil Bowser and an army of airships and Princess Peach is kidnapped. Mario and his friends must once again rescue Princess Peach from Bowser’s clutches, only this time the adventure takes them to outer space. In order to warp from galaxy to galaxy, players must guide Mario on 3D planets as he battles enemies to collect Power Stars. Mario is aided in his quest by Lumas, tiny star-like creatures that inhabit the Observatory from which Mario makes his journey between galaxies. Lumas can be fed Star Bits, tiny colorful shapes that Mario collects on various planets. The mother of the Lumas, Rosalina, is a beautiful woman who promises to transport Mario to save his beloved Peach after he has collected sixty Power Stars.

Critical evaluation: Super Mario Galaxy is a delightful and adorable game that will appeal to long-time Mario fans and newcomers alike. The graphics of the game are beautiful: the galaxy is serene but vibrant. Mario’s enemies are even somewhat lovable. The game play of this title is truly original as well. Players guide Mario as he travels from galaxy to galaxy, each one containing different planets. Mario traverses these planets in 3D, meaning that he is literally running upside for much of the game. Players can jump Mario from one planet to another located below. Although this new form of gaming perspective will take some getting used to, it is truly enthralling once mastered. Nintendo has left the possibilities wide-open for 3D game play. The 3D aspects of the game make for some interesting puzzles and challenges as well, as players must think in three dimensions when looking for clues or finding Power Stars. The one downside to the game is that it is relatively short in duration. Sixty Power Stars can easily be collected after just a short amount of playing time, and players will wish there was more story to the game after that point. In actuality, there are 120 Power Stars that can be collected and some are quite difficult. These additional challenges will appeal to players who wish to enjoy the graphics and 3D perspective longer, despite the fact that the storyline has ended. Overall, Super Mario Galaxy is a wonderful game that is fun for all ages.

Player's annotation: Help Mario and his friends rescue Princess Peach from the clutches of the evil Bowser as they travel from galaxy to galaxy! Collect Power Stars on 3D planets to help Mario save the day!   
About the creator: One of the most well-known names in gaming, the Nintendo Company actually got its start in 1889 when it was founded by Fusajiro Yamauchi to produce Japanese card games. Over the following decades the company tried many different business ventures before entering the video game industry in 1977. The first console released by Nintendo was called Color TV Game. In 1980 the company created the Game & Watch handheld video game series, but became a global sensation with the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) released in 1985. The first game created for NES was Super Mario Brothers which has since become a worldwide phenomenon sparking many sequels. Since the release of the NES, Nintendo has launched several other gaming consoles including the Super Nintendo, Nintendo 64, Nintendo GameCube and Nintendo Wii. They have also created many handheld gaming devices like the Nintendo Game Boy and the Nintendo DS. Nintendo is headquartered in Kyoto, Japan and is the third most valuable company in Japan. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nintendo)

Genre: Action and adventure

Curriculum ties:
None

Booktalking ideas:
Influence of gaming in society
Balancing gaming with other activities
Super Mario Brothers phenomenon

Reading level/Interest Age:
All ages.

Challenge issues:
None

Reasons for inclusion:
Winner of British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) award for excellence in video gaming in 2009.
Voted by Nintendo Power magazine in 2008 as best game released for the Nintendo Wii.
Named by Nintendo Power and Official Nintendo Magazine as “Nintendo game of the decade” for 2000-2009.
Third best-selling Wii game ever released.

Parrotfish (Novel)

Parrotfish (Novel) Release date: 2007. Author: Ellen Wittlinger. Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. ISBN: 9781416916222.

Plot summary: Angela Katz-McNair is a boy. She feels like a boy, she thinks like a boy, and has always felt like nature made a mistake putting her in a girl’s body. So she decides to change things. Angela turns into Grady. Grady has short hair and wears boys’ clothes. Grady feels much more comfortable in his skin than Angela ever did. But changing genders isn’t going to be easy. Grady’s family doesn’t seem to be taking the change well. His mother isn’t sure she can ever think of Grady as anything but Angela, and his sister is worried that having a transgendered sibling will ruin her chances of becoming popular. Things at school are worse. Grady’s lifelong friend, Eve, won’t talk to him now that he’s not a she. Grady is bullied by other students and misunderstood by administrators. Soon, however, Grady discovers that not everyone is as judgmental as he thinks. He makes friends with the school’s biggest nerd, Sebastian, and develops a crush on the cool and beautiful, Kita. Grady wonders if people can truly change, as he has, and accept him.

Critical evaluation: Parrotfish is a quick but important read tackling a confusing social issue, transgenderism. While many novels for young adults have uncovered the journeys of LGBT teens, transgendered individuals are rarely the primary characters. In Parrotfish, the reader dives headlong into Angela’s transition into Grady. Angela’s feelings that she is a boy trapped in a girl’s body are not a phase. She has felt this way her whole life and finally decides, in order to be happy, she has to transform herself into what she knows is her correct identity. Angela’s sexual attraction to other females is not the main focus of this transition as many often believe. Rather, Wittlinger emphasizes that Angela feels Grady is who she is meant to be. This is an important distinction to be made to both teens and adults: transgendered individuals don’t necessarily change their genders because they are homosexual, rather they know that nature made a mistake. In the novel, Grady identifies himself as a heterosexual male, not a lesbian who wants to become a boy. Wittlinger does a superb job of emphasizing this point by including it seamlessly in the plot. The other characters in the novel besides Grady are also interesting. Sebastian, Grady’s friend who immediately accepts his transformation, is a scene-stealer. He is endearing, quirky, intelligent and a perfect friend for Grady. The relationship between Grady and his former friend Eve will also resonate with readers. Most teens can identify with losing a friend for one reason or another, and will understand the loneliness and anger that Grady feels over his friend choosing the popular crowd over him. Overall, Parrotfish tackles a controversial topic in a very readable way that will appeal to teens.

Reader's annotation: Angela Katz-McNair knows that nature made a mistake when it put her in the body of a female. She knows she is a boy, she has felt this way her whole life, and decides that she must live life the way she was meant to: she cuts her hair, dons boy’s clothing and announces to the world that she is now Grady, a boy.   
About the author: Ellen Wittlinger was born in Belleville, Illinois in 1948. She spent her youth as an only child, helping her parents run the small grocery store attached to their house. After attending college at Millikin University, Wittlinger moved to Ashland, Oregon. Soon, Wittlinger attended the University of Iowa where she received her MFA. Wittlinger then moved to Provincetown, Massachusetts where she worked at the Fine Arts Work Center and began her writing career. In 1979 she published her first book of poetry called Breakers. Wittlinger also wrote many plays, some of which were staged in Massachusetts. After becoming a children’s librarian, Wittlinger decided to try writing young adult novels. In 1993, her first novel Lombardo’s Law was published. Since then, Wittlinger has written many more award-winning novels for the young adult audience, including Hard Love (1999), What’s in a Name (2000), Razzle (2001), Sandpiper (2005), Parrotfish (2007) and This Means War (2010). Wittlinger lives in Massachutsetts with her husband.

Genre: Fiction

Curriculum ties:
Transgenderism

Booktalking ideas:
Transgenderism
LGBT issues and high school
Bullying
Coming out to a friend or family
Gender roles

Reading level/Interest Age:
Grade 9 and up.

Challenge issues:
Mild sexuality
Controversial subject matter

Challenge counterpoints:Recommended for grades 9 and up.
Recommend parent read book before child.
Recommend parent discuss transgenderism with child.



Reasons for inclusion:
Positive reviews from Booklist, School Library Journal, The Horn Book Magazine, VOYA, Publishers Weekly.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

I am Number Four (Novel)

I am Number Four (Novel) Release date: 2010. Author: Pittacus Lore. Publisher: HarperCollins Children’s Books. ISBN: 9780061969553.

Plot summary: Number Four and his guardian have been on the run for fifteen-years ever since they escaped from their home planet, Lorien, after it was destroyed by the evil Mogadorians. Number Four and eight other children and their guardians, or CĂȘpan, live in hiding all over the Earth as they are hunted by the Mogadorians. A Loric charm was cast as they escaped from Lorien, and the nine children can only be killed in numerical order. When one child dies, a small scar appears on the ankles of the remaining Lorien children. Number Four is fifteen when a third scar appears: one, two and three have been murdered, and he is next in line. Constantly changing identities and moving from place to place, school to school, Number Four and his guardian arrive in Paradise, Ohio to stay for however long they can. Four assumes the name of John Smith, his guardian, Henri, and together they begin another new life in Paradise. For John, something is different about this new place. He makes a true friend, Sam, falls in love for the first time with Sarah, and even adopts a stray dog, Bernie Kosar. John also discovers that he is beginning to develop his Legacies: superpowers that the nine Lorien children will receive as they grow older. Henri trains John in using his Legacies to protect himself, and John becomes more accustomed to life in Paradise as time passes. But how long will John be able to enjoy his new friends before the Mogadorians find him?

Critical evaluation: With an interesting storyline that will appeal to both teen and adult audiences, I am Number Four seems poised to become the latest teen novel craze. With the movie rights purchased before the novel was even released (the film version is set to come out in theaters in February 2011), I am Number Four has the elements of a successful series like Twilight or Harry Potter. The main character, Number Four, or John as he becomes early in the novel, is very compelling. He has a lot of his plate for a fifteen-year-old: he is hunted ruthlessly by the Mogadorians and has spent his life on the run with his guardian Henri; he longs for normal human relationships like friends and family; he’s unsure of his newly developing Legacies and if he will be able to use them to protect himself; he’s dealing with bullies at school who seem from the start determined to make life difficult for the “new guy”; he’s falling in love with the most beautiful girl he’s ever seen. The plot seems to focus more on John’s life as a teenager who is different, with the aspects of John’s alien’s past in the background. The breakout star of the novel, and most likely the film, is Bernie Kosar, the little beagle who John and Henri “adopt” (rather the dog adopts them) shortly after arriving in Paradise. There is something mysterious about Bernie, and readers will enjoy learning more about him while laughing at his antics (Henri dresses the beagle up as Superman for Halloween, etc.) Overall, I am Number Four is a very successful starting point for what is sure to be a very well-loved series. The second novel, The Power of Six, is set to come out on June 7, 2011.

Reader's annotation: John Smith is from the planet Lorien and has been on the run with his guardian, Henri, for fifteen-years since his planet was destroyed by the cruel Mogadorians. After moving to the town of Paradise, Ohio, however, and falling in love for the first time, John isn’t sure if he wants to run anymore.
About the author: According to the book jacket, Pittacus Lore is the ruler of the planet Lorien who has been in hiding on Earth for twelve years. In reality, Pittacus Lore is the combination of two authors, Jobie Hughes and James Frey, who collaborated in writing I am Number Four. Hughes, born in Ohio in 1980, made his authorial debut with I am Number Four. Author James Frey made news headlines with his first work A Million Little Pieces published in 2005. This “memoir” was supposedly about Frey’s struggle with drug and alcohol addiction and his rehabilitation from this disease. It was later revealed, however, that much of this account was untrue. Frey received a lot of criticism from the news media, including talk show host Oprah Winfrey, for claiming this memoir was true. Frey published two other novels following this unusual debut, My Friend Leonard (2005) and Bright Shiny Morning (2008). In 2009, Frey created a publishing company called Full Fathom Five with the goal of creating successful young adult novels. A great deal of controversy surrounds this publishing company which many claims exploits literary students (like Jobie Hughes) to create commercially viable novels. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Frey)

Genre: Science-fiction

Curriculum ties:
N/A

Booktalking ideas:
Social aspects of high school
Bullying
Death and murder
Relationship of John and Henri

Reading level/Interest Age:
Grade 9-12

Challenge issues:
Violence
Sexuality

Challenge counterpoints:Recommended for grades 9-12.
Recommend parent read book before child.



Reasons for inclusion:
Positive reviews from Booklist, Publisher’s Weekly, The Horn Book.
New York Times bestseller.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Interview with the Vampire (Novel)

Interview with the Vampire (Novel) Release date: 1976. Author: Anne Rice. Publisher: Ballantine Books. ISBN: 0345409647.

Plot summary: Interview with the Vampire, the first novel in Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles, tells the story of Louis, a young plantation owner in 18th century New Orleans, who is transformed into a vampire by the handsome and bewitching vampire Lestat. Lestat is enamored with his new companion, but Louis has trouble adjusting to life as a vampire, preferring to feed on animals rather than humans as Lestat does. As the years pass, Louis begins to become more comfortable with preying on humans, however, and the two move to the center of New Orleans to live fashionably. In the city, Louis encounters a young, sick child on whom he feeds but does not kill. Lestat decides to turn the child, Claudia, into a vampire to add to their family. Louis immediately becomes a father-figure for Claudia, and the three live happily for a time. Claudia becomes increasingly frustrated, however, when she realizes that, though her mind is that of a woman, she is forever stuck in the body of a child. Claudia decides to kill Lestat, and after they believe their creator is dead, Louis and Claudia escape to Europe. In Paris, the pair meet Armand and his vampire coven, whom they befriend. The coven becomes suspicious, however, suspecting that Claudia and Louis might be responsible for murdering their creator.

Critical evaluation: Anne Rice’s famed Vampire Chronicles series begins with the now classic Interview with the Vampire. Although teen literature is now riddled with vampire stories, Rice’s tale of Louis, Lestat and Claudia stands out as one of the first vampire novels appealing to the young adult audience. Although the story is full of action and scares, the true plot is about the relationship between Lestat, Louis and Claudia. Lestat is a handsome, charming vampire, but also one who clearly has a past of his own. His creation of Louis satisfies a deep need for companionship, something that teens will be able to identify with in their own relationships. Lestat is fearful of losing Louis as his companion, and creates Claudia to be their “vampire daughter.” Lestat knows that Louis will love the little girl immediately, and uses her to keep his family together. This is a kind of dynamic that many teens have experienced in their lives: fear of losing a friend, using others to maintain relationships. The novel is essentially a reflection of human dynamics, disguised as a scary story. Claudia’s rebellion against her “father” is another important part of this dynamic. Overall, Rice’s first novel set the stage for teen vampire stories of today. Instead of creepy ghouls, Rice’s vampires are beautiful, charming, and fashionable. Their need to feed on humans is only part of their existence. They deal with love, loss, friendship, and romance, and other authors (Stephanie Meyer, etc.) have expanded upon this idea. A must-read for any teen vampire fan.

Reader's annotation: This first novel in Anne Rice’s famed Vampire Chronicles tells the story of a vampire family: Lestat, Louis and their “daughter” Claudia. Together, the threesome live in 19th century New Orleans, feeding on the living, and dealing with their immortality.

About the author: Born in 1941, Anne Rice spent most of her childhood in New Orleans (the setting for some of her future novels). After graduating high school in 1959, Anne went to the Texas Woman’s University in Denton as well as North Texas State College. After college, Anne married her childhood sweetheart, Stan Rice. The two moved to San Francisco where they lived until 1989 when they moved back to New Orleans. The couple lost their first child, a daughter, to leukemia in 1972. Their son, Christopher Rice, was born in 1978. Christopher, like his mother and father, also went on to become an author. Rice completed her first novel, Interview with the Vampire, in 1973 and it was published in 1976. The novel was very popular, prompting Rice to continue her series, The Vampire Chronicles. The series includes novels like The Vampire Lestat (1985), The Queen of the Damned (1988), and The Vampire Armand (1998). The final novel in the series, Blood Canticle was published in 2003. Rice also wrote another popular series about the lives of the Mayfair witches, some of which have crossed over with her vampire characters. After her husband’s death from cancer in 2002, Rice made a public announcement that she would devote her writing to the subject of Christianity. Since then, she has written several works on the topic including Christ the Lord, Out of Egypt (2005) and Called Out of Darkness (2008). In July of 2010, Rice made another announcement concerning her faith, stating that she no longer identifies herself as a Christian, although she still devotes herself to the teachings of Jesus. (http://www.annerice.com/Chamber-Biography.html)
Genre: Fiction/Horror/Historical

Curriculum ties:
American literature

Booktalking ideas:
Vampires
Relationships (Louis and Lestat, Louis and Claudia, etc.)
Rebellion and punishment
Eternity/immortality

Reading level/Interest Age:
Age 15+

Challenge issues:
Vampirism
Sexuality
Violence
Language

Challenge counterpoints:Recommended for ages 15 and up.
Recommend parent read book before child.
Recommend parent discuss book with child.



Reasons for inclusion:
Considered a classic American novel.
Positive reviews from Library Journal, Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, Boston Globe.
From New York Times bestselling author and series.

Lessons from a Dead Girl (Novel)

Lessons from a Dead Girl (Novel) Release date: 2007. Author: Jo Knowles. Publisher: Candlewick Press. ISBN: 9780763644857.

Plot summary: After Leah Green is tragically killed, Laine reflects on their relationship as she tries to come to terms with the death. Leah and Lainey have been friends since they were little. As they were growing up they did everything together: had sleepovers, told secrets, played with dolls. But something was different about their friendship. Leah has a troubled past and was sexually abusive to Lainey, telling her that what they did was just practice for when they got older and begin to date boys. Lainey was confused by her friend’s actions. Leah’s charisma and popularity made it hard for Lainey to question anything her friend says or does, but she knew that what they do in the “doll closet” was wrong. She felt dirty and guilty. As they grew up, Lainey struggled as Leah began to drift away, making new friends and becoming increasingly popular at school. Lainey is confused, and is constantly haunted by Leah’s past actions and taunting. At every turn, Lainey can hear Leah’s voice inside her head, reminding her that she liked what they did together. As Lainey thinks about her troubled friend’s life, will she be able to forgive her?

Critical evaluation: Lessons from a Dead Girl is a truly haunting and heartbreaking story about abuse, friendship and forgiveness. The novel opens with the death of Leah Greene, and the rest of the story is broken up into chapters named with a lesson Lainey learned from her friend. As more and more about Leah and Lainey’s friendship is revealed, the truth about the abuse subjected upon Lainey at the hands of a peer becomes clear. Sexual abuse between friends, siblings, or children who are close in age is not something that is talked about as frequently as between an adult and a child. As the reader learns about Leah’s actions, it’s obvious that Leah herself has been sexually abused (it is later revealed that a family friend, Sam, is the person responsible for victimizing Leah.) This type of abuse has been presented in previous teen literature, but few novels have touched upon sexual abuse between friends in quite the same as Knowles does in Lessons from a Dead Girl. The novel itself is very well-written, but extremely difficult to read due to the subject matter. Teen and adult readers alike will find themselves sickened by Leah’s treatment of the innocent and trusting Lainey, as well as by the abuse Leah must have suffered herself. And while Leah is somewhat of an antagonist, her death is truly tragic despite the fact that Lainey is now free from her abuse. The story will raise many questions in the reader’s mind about Lainey’s struggles: What could she have done to help her friend? Is there any grace in Leah’s tragic death since she was clearly very troubled? Will Lainey ever be able to truly forgive Leah? Thoughts like these will remain in the reader’s mind long after the book has been completed. An excellent but heartbreaking read for teens.

Reader's annotation: Leah Greene is dead, and Lainey reflects on her long-time friendship with the beautiful, troubled teen.

About the author: Jo Knowles grew up in New Hampshire surrounded by animals and books at her parents’ farmhouse. As she was growing up, Knowles loves writing stories about her family and their pets. When she was young, her parents purchased a Victorian house and converted it to a restaurant called The Hathaway House. Some of the first stories Knowles wrote were about her experiences at The Hathaway House. In college, Knowles took a children’s literature course and decided to pursue a career in writing. She went to grad school and wrote her first novel as her graduate thesis. In 2007, her first novel Lessons from a Dead Girl was published. Her second novel, Jumping Off Swings was published in 2009. Both novels have received much praise by critics as well as awards. Lessons from a Dead Girl was named a YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers and a New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age. It also received the Pen New England Children’s Book Discovery Away and a Gold Star Award for Excellence from TeensReadToo.com. Jumping Off Swings was also a YALSA Top Ten Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers as well as a YALSA Best Book for Young Adults. Knowles lives in Vermont with her husband. (http://www.joknowles.com/bio.html)
Genre: Fiction

Curriculum ties:
N/A

Booktalking ideas:
Sexual abuse between friends, siblings, or peers
Sexual abuse between adults and children
Friendship

Reading level/Interest Age:
Age 15+

Challenge issues:
Sexuality
Sexual abuse
Language
Drug and alcohol abuse
Violence
Homosexuality

Challenge counterpoints:Recommended for ages 15 and up.
Recommend parent read book before child and discuss before child reads book.
Recommend parent discuss sexual abuse with child.
Provide resources about sexual abuse and how to report it to authorities if parent or child suspects it is occurring to someone they know.



Reasons for inclusion:
Positive review from School Library Journal and Booklist.
Winner of Pen New England Children’s Book Discovery Away and a Gold Star Award for Excellence from TeensReadToo.com.
Named a YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers and a New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age.
Nominated for a Georgia Peach Book Award for 2009-2010.
Named a Teen Top Choice at Flamingnet Book Reviews.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Clan of the Cave Bear (Novel)

The Clan of the Cave Bear (Novel) Release date: 1980. Author: Jean M. Auel. Publisher: Crown Publishers. ISBN: 9780553381672.

Plot summary: Ayla is just five-years-old when an earthquake destroys her family’s home, stranding her on her own in the wilderness. The little girl is adopted by Iza after being found by the Clan, a group of Neanderthals that communicate via sign language and guttural sounds. Although Ayla is a Cro-Magnon, and looks and thinks differently than her adoptive people, she struggles to fit in to the Clan society. By Clan standards, Ayla is a hideous little girl, sure to never find a mate that will want to father children with her. As Ayla grows up into a teenager, she learns about healing from her adoptive mother and also learns how to hunt, something that is typically considered taboo for Clan women. After Ayla begins to receive attention for her accomplishments, she incurs the wrath of Broud, the son of the Clan’s leader, Brun. Broud is an unkind, cruel man who repeatedly rapes Ayla. Despite his constant torment, Ayla is thrilled when she becomes pregnant, giving birth to a son. Now Ayla must struggle not only to find acceptance for herself in the Clan, but also for her child.

Critical evaluation: Considered by many to be a classic, The Clan of the Cave Bear, the first book in Jean M. Auel’s The Earth’s Children series, is a unique novel for teens. Although the main character, Ayla, is a teenager living roughly 18,000 years ago, she still encounters many problems that teens experience today. From the time of her birth she doesn’t feel accepted, and views herself as an outsider. She constantly tries to fit in with the Clan and struggles to prove herself. Many teens will identify with this feeling of not fitting in despite all efforts to do so. Auel also paints a very vivid and enthralling picture of the landscape in which Ayla lives. Her descriptions of the behavior of the Clan, their way of life, language, and customs, though wordy, are enthralling. Teens will be able to relate what they may have learned about Cro-Magnon and prehistoric life to the novel. The Clan characters are also very intriguing, despite the fact that they are what many would refer to as “cave men.” Ayla’s relationship with her adoptive mother, Iza, is very endearing. The novel also deals with issues like teen pregnancy and rape that are still important today. The Clan of the Cave Bear is a novel unlike any other for teens, and one they will likely enjoy.


Reader's annotation: 18,000 years ago, a young, Cro-Magnon girl was stranded from her family following a devastating earthquake. After being adopted by the Clan, a group of Neanderthals, can this girl, Ayla, fit in to the society of a species that is on its way to extinction?
About the author: Jean M. Auel was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1936. Soon after graduating high school, Auel married her husband in 1954. The couple moved to the Portland, Oregon area where Auel received her MBA in 1976. After finishing her MBA, Auel got the idea to write her first novel, The Clan of the Cave Bear. After a great deal of research spanning a two-year period, Auel completed the novel which was published in 1980. The novel was very popular and later adapted into a movie starring Darryl Hannah as Ayla in 1985. Auel wrote several more novels in the series, The Valley of the Horses (1983), The Mammoth Hunters (1985), Plains of Passage (1990) and The Shelters of Stone (2002). For her series, Auel has received many awards including the Friends of Literature Award in 1981, the Golden Plate Award in 1986, the American Academy of Achievement in 1986 and the National Zoo Award in 1990. The next novel in her series, The Land of Painted Caves, will be released in 2011. (http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/auel.htm)

Genre: Fiction/Historical


Curriculum ties:
Evolution
Cro-Magnon/Neanderthal

Booktalking ideas:
Evolution
Struggling to fit in
Orphan/losing parents
Rape
Teen pregnancy

Reading level/Interest Age:
Age 14+

Challenge issues:
Sexuality
Rape
Violence
Evolution

Challenge counterpoints:
Recommended for age 14+.
Recommend parent read novel before child.
Remind parent that novel is not claiming to be factual depiction of evolution.
Recommend parent discuss rape with child.  

Reasons for inclusion:
Critically acclaimed for several decades.
Positive reviews from New York Times Book Review, San Francisco Chronicle.
Winner of several literary awards.

The Plain Janes (Graphic Novel)

The Plain Janes (Graphic Novel) Release date: 2007. Author: Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg. Publisher: DC Comics. ISBN: 9781401211158.

Plot summary: Jane is a high school student in Metro City who's life is forever changed when she is injured by a terrorist bombing. Upon coming-to after the explosion, Jane discovers a young man unconscious nearby. She spends the next few months talking to him about her life as he lays in a comatose state in the hospital. The only possession he had at the time of the bombing was a sketchbook with "Art Saves" written on the cover. Jane feels very connected to "John Doe," and, after her parents move her to Kent Waters, Suburbia, she continues to write to him about her life. At her new high school, Jane ditches her formerly popular persona for one of an artsy, edgy rebel. She immediately decides to befriend the school "rejects," three girls, all named Jane. Together, the Janes form a new club: P.L.A.I.N or "People Loving Art in Neighborhoods. Inspired by John's sketchbook, Jane and the Janes seek to add art to the mundane, suburban life around them. Through a series of "art attacks," P.L.A.I.N earns increasing notoriety, and with it, increasing opposition from school officials and the police. The Janes are determined, however, that nothing will stop them from adding art to their community. As more and more of their classmates become involved in their activities, it seems that their efforts might succeed afterall.

Critical evaluation: Beautifully illustrated and with an original plot, The Plain Janes is a unique and interesting graphic novel that will appeal to both a teen and adult audience. Although it is a relatively short story, the characters are fully developed. Each Jane is unique with her own personality: there is the brainy Jane, the athletic Jane, and the actress Jane. The “main Jane” undergoes a transformation following her experience with a terrorist attack, and goes from typical high-school student to edgy art aficionado. The plot is driven forward by Jane’s letters to “John Doe” in which she describes her life in the suburbs and the activities of P.L.A.I.N. Her devotion to John is very endearing and provides a good backbone for the storyline. The actual activities of P.L.A.I.N are very reminiscent of the Guy Fawkes character in another graphic novel series, V for Vendetta. Their “art attacks” are illegal, but they feel that the risk is worth the benefit. This idea will resonate with teens: people doing things that go against society for the greater good. Teens will also enjoy the language Castellucci uses, creating realistic characters. Overal, The Plain Janes is an entertaining and clever novel with an interesting message. Teens and adults alike will be certain to enjoy it.

Reader's annotation: After moving from Metro City to suburbia, Jane befriends her new high school’s “rejects”: three girls, all named Jane. Together, Jane and her friends form a group called P.L.A.I.N (People Loving Art in Neighborhoods) and wage an art war on their humdrum town.
About the authors: Cecil Castellucci was born in New York City in 1969. After attending the Laguardia High School of the Performing Arts, Castellucci studied theater in Paris before receiving her B.F.A. in Film Production from Concordia University in Montreal, Canada. Castellucci has had a varied career. She was part of an all-girl group in Montreal called Bite, then moved to Los Angeles and formed another band called Nerdy Girl. In 2005 she published her first novel Boy Proof which went on to be recognized as a YALSA Best Book for Young Adults in 2006. Since then she has published several more novels, as well as her first graphic novel, The Plain Janes (2007). In 2010 Castellucci released her first picture book, Grandma’s Gloves. In 2011, Castellucci will release another graphic novel, Odd Duck, and two more novels for teens. She currently lives in Los Angeles. (http://castellucci.wordpress.com/about/)

Cartoonist and illustrator Jim Rugg was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1977. Rugg has illustrated many comics and graphic novels including Street Angel, Afrodisiac, The PLAIN Janes, One Model Nation, and The Guild. His illustrations tend to nod at illustrators and pop culture from the 1970s. As an cartoonist and graphic artist, Rugg has many clients for whom he regularly produces art including UNICED, the American Red Cross, New York Magazine, the History Channel, Sony Music and VH1. In 2010, Rugg was nominated for the prestigious Ignatz Award for his comic Rambo 3.5. (http://www.jimrugg.com/about.html)

Genre: Graphic Novel


Curriculum ties:
Importance of art in society
Social movements

Booktalking ideas:
Art
Vandalism
Rebellion against society
Terrorism
High school relationships
Moving

Reading level/Interest Age:
Grade 7+

Challenge issues:
Violence
Sexuality
Vandalism

Challenge counterpoints:
Recommended for grades 7+
Recommend parent read novel before or with child.
Recommend parent discuss concept of art as rebellion with child.

Reasons for inclusion:
Positive reviews from School Library Journal, Booklist, Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, Vanity Fair.Award winning author and illustrator.